The Anderson Tapes (1971)
“Big Heist – Big Bucks – Big Stars”
Director: Sidney Lumet
Cast: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam
Synopsis: After Duke Anderson is released from prison after ten years for taking the rap for a scion of a Mafia family, he cashes in a debt of honor with the mob to bankroll a caper.
The trouble with ‘high-tech’ movies is that they don’t stay high tech very long. A couple of weeks back I re-watched the 1996 Sci-fi extravaganza Independence Day, and already that technological blockbuster is looking just a little dated so you can imagine just how clunky the technology in a forty-something-year-old heist movie like the Anderson Tapes looks. In fact, it’s questionable why director Sidney Lumet even bothered to include all the surveillance equipment as it plays little significant part in the story itself. Apparently the Lawrence Sanders novel on which it was based was structured as a series of interviews with all the spies and snoops responsible for secreting all the various devices, which might work as a literary device – despite its undeniable gimmickry – but falls flat in a movie.
Sean Connery sheds his 007 image to play Duke Anderson, a career criminal newly released from prison after a 10-year stretch into a world that has changed immeasurably since he went inside – mainly in terms of technological advancement. This demonstrable speed with which the world changes explains the anxiety of fellow inmate Pop (Stan Gottlieb) who, in the words of Duke, missed the depression, WWII, and Korea. Third inmate to be released is young kid The Kid, played by a fresh-faced Christopher Walken in his first major role.
Duke hooks up with Ingrid (Dyan Cannon), an old flame now living in a swanky New York apartment block, and it doesn’t take him long to realise just how rich the pickings are at this exclusive address. So, after securing mob financing for the job, Duke promptly engages the services of his former cellmates as well as that of Haskins (Martin Balsam), a flamboyant antiques expert who flounces around beneath an unconvincing toupee. Unknown to Duke, his every move is monitored by various unconnected government and private agencies, which means that everything is caught on tape, even though nobody figures out exactly what it is that he’s up to.
Heist movies pretty much all follow the same formula: a disparate gang of thieves and reprobates is assembled to pull off some fantastic job; they undergo meticulous preparation, pull off the caper, encounter an unexpected obstacle to their success and then either get away with it or don’t. The job of the movie’s screenwriter and director is to provide us with an exciting and stimulating variation on this theme, and unfortunately, while Lumet and screenwriter Frank Pierson deliver a reasonably entertaining movie, they never quite manage – or seem to be trying – to impress us with the audacity of their protagonist’s caper, and sometimes Lumet‘s camera seems as cold and uncaring of what is taking place as the countless surveillance camera that seemed to populate New York even in the early 1970s. We form no attachment to the characters, and therefore invest no emotional currency in the success of their mission; all we’re doing is watching a series of events unfolding on the screen with a dispiriting adherence to formula.
(Reviewed 24th July 2012)